What ever happened to the Church of Anarchy?
From Isthmus by Andy Moore, January 10, 2019
The avant-garde cofounder left Willy Street years ago for life in the Driftless Region
I’ve entered this menagerie to catch up with an artist I’ve never met but have followed for decades.
Madison old timers will remember aND as the prankster-in-chief of the Church of Anarchy, a whirlpool of visual art and performance that swirled from a house on the 1300
The Church of Anarchy in 1987.
block of Williamson Street in the 1980s. aND created the alternative universe with his late wife, then known as Liz Was. The Iran-Contra affair had protesters in motion on the Capitol Square but aND wanted to protest art or, as he puts it, “the concept of what art is or what music is — or what culture should be made of.”
During the 1980s and early 1990s, aND and Was turned art inside out. Performing hundreds of planned and spontaneous performance art shows, their status alternated between counterculture heroes and celebrated mainstream weirdos. For the couple, art was a totem to be torn down and stomped on. Even if you had to make art to do it.
Michael Anderson grew up in a traditional household in Wisconsin Rapids. He began writing poetry at 13. A lifetime of deconstructing reality began by questioning his own name. One day while hanging out at the Rapids public library, he looked up the name Michael Anderson in the Chicago phone book. There were 325 of them. Even worse, he counted 12 Michael David Andersons, his full name.
“I thought, oh my God, that can’t be my name. I started scrambling for pseudonyms,” he says. By 16 he landed on an alternative spelling of his first name, mIEKAL, and decided to just shorten his last name to the first syllable, “aND.”
Writing poetry full time is partly to blame for aND’s eight attempts to finish college at UW-Oshkosh. However, it gained him a scholarship residency at Ragsdale Writers Retreat in Lake Forest, Illinois, two years running. It was there that he started a work called SAMSARA CONGERIES, which took him 35 years to complete. All together he has published 36 books of poetry and a novel.
On a hot August night in 1980 he climbed onto an empty bar stool at the Crystal Corner Bar next to a musician from Long Island named Elizabeth Nasaw. She moved in with him the next day. They were
John Shimon and Julie Lindemann
Family portrait: mIEKAL aND with Elizabeth Was and their son Liaizon Wakest in 1993.
performing together almost immediately, and in celebration of her mutual commitment to aND, she became Liz Was. The duo started out as Two Dogs in Paris, but consistent with their belief that art is temporary, they renamed their project a dozen times. Performances included regular sermons in the front yard where, dressed in an orange wig and kabuki robe, aND preached in complete gibberish.
Was and aND were prolific. They produced art events the way others take daily showers. They put 40 people on a bus to Aztalan, Wisconsin, for a seven-day celebration of the pyramid-like rock sculptures there. They inhabited a miniature pyramid for 24 hours in front of the then-Civic Center on State Street. And they organized the Festival of the Swamps, an avant-garde counterpart to the city-sponsored Festival of the Lakes.
The couple also cut the edge of what would become the ’zine movement via their poetry press Xexoxial Editions, which continues to this day.
“They had no role models,” says Dan Bitney, drummer for the Tar Babies, a punk band that found success in the ’80s. Fellow Madison visual artist and musician Andy Ewen, of Honor Among Thieves, also remembers the couple. “I have never known anyone whose life and art constituted a whole as much as it did with Liz and mIEKAL,” he says.
Was and aND were legally married during a performance art piece in 1987, the same year their son, Liaizon Wakest, was born. His name appeared after days of arranging wooden letters purchased at St. Vinny’s on their coffee table.
“My childhood was great,” says Wakest, who now lives in New Orleans. He was “unschooled” until he was 10 and attended alternative high schools in Viroqua and Madison. “I say that I grew up in an anarchist commune. Growing up there we would never use the word commune, mainly because it had a really bad reputation (I think especially in the Midwest). Now having traveled the world, I think calling it a commune is the most succinct.”
The commune Wakest refers to wasn’t the Willy Street home of his birth. By 1990, when Wakest was a toddler, aND says drug houses surrounded their apartment, giving dangerous new meaning to the word anarchy. Was and aND answered an ad in Isthmus advertising for people interested in starting an “eco-village” in the country. The couple traveled to the Mineral Point area to meet with a stranger who invested a wealthy Chicagoan’s money in the purchase of old municipal properties in rural Wisconsin towns and villages. The stranger eventually set them up, deed and all, with properties including the old West Lima Post Office and school building. Dreamtime Village was born.
During the ’90s the school and post office became an experimental arts residence that was visited by hundreds of artists over the years. Dreamtime Village was — and is still — guided by Australian aboriginal philosophy, one with a language that had no words that separated daily life from art. “They believed that the sleeping hours are the waking hours, and the waking hours are the sleeping hours,” says aND. It’s the ultimate paradigm shift.
The couple split up in 1998, and Was changed her name to Lyx Ish. They co-parented Liaizon and continued to run Dreamtime and Xexoxial Editions until Ish passed away suddenly after a pancreatic cancer diagnosis in 2004. aND’s entry in his personal timeline when she died reads, “music leaves my soul.”
The Willy Street house served as a nexus of alternative arts in the 1980s and '90s.
These days aND devotes most of his time to permaculture — a branch of sustainable farming that incorporates philosophical principles — and wine making. His fruits and vegetables go into his wines, which he stamps with his Beyond Vineyard/Driftless Sacred Grove label.
“He is a poetic green wizard,” says Kate Heiber-Cobb, founder of the Madison Area Permaculture Guild “His arts flow over into the life-giving work he does around the earth.”
Sitting on the second floor of his post office home, as his lone koi fish swam back and forth behind him in a giant tank, I asked aND what he wished people living more conventional lifestyles could understand about his life and worldview. Appropriately enough, the answer came back to living on the edge.
“There’s a concept in permaculture called edges. Like where a hillside meets a pond. Those edges are the highest percentage of diversity and potential,” says aND. “Because it’s two different systems meeting each other, that edge is where things can happen.
“The idea of edges applies to everything in our life. We found some cracks in the pavement and we situated ourselves in the places that were most neglected — and most unwanted. And that’s where we made our home. Spaces that nobody else was paying attention to.”